I’d been planning to write up a post today called “Thanksgaming,” but then I noticed Bob Mackey has an article by that very name on the site I work for. Man, that Mackey dude is such a jerk.

But yes: this year’s Thanksgiving break has been fairly unusual for me in that I normally use the time off as an excuse to slack off and get in some gaming. It’s usually a good time to catch up on things; at the very least, it’s a couple of days with some open time that I can spend, guilt-free, in front of a television. Of course, this year I had to go and squander my holiday on being productive, but I guess that’s just me becoming more obsessive in my old age. That and, you know, the whole working constantly with the medium thing makes a couple of days of surreptitious decadence feel less interesting — the last Thanksgiving gaming marathon I can recall was blasting through a reviewable copy of Final Fantasy IV Advance three years ago, notable mainly because it was (1) the first time I’d realized the game does in fact have a story linking its disconnected dungeons and (2) ’cause I was playing it on a GBA lockbox, which had a painfully dim screen and weighed about 2 pounds more than a normal GBA. So I had to really want to play it.

More interesting was, hmm…I suppose 1990? Whenever Maniac Mansion was first released for NES. I acquired the game in the best kind of Black Friday transaction, which is to say I asked my father to look for it when he bravely went to face the crowds at 7 a.m. and he dropped in my hands an hour later. Painless! For me, anyway, although I think it’s only been in recent years that these post-Thanksgiving sales have gone from being “a bit crowded” to “oh god I want to kill myself wait it looks like the press of bodies will take care of that for meaaargh.” What better way to reflect on the bounty of a middle class American lifestyle than by exploding hamsters in the microwave?

And of course a few years later, Nintendo kicked off its new policy of releasing its most notable game for each year two days before Thanksgiving in the form of Donkey Kong Country. It took me almost two days of intermittent playing to reach the Ewok village level, at which point I sadly admitted to myself that despite looking impressive the game was boring and stupid. So I decided to beat Final Fantasy III a second time. In retrospect, I’m proud of young me. He was a bright kid.

Of course, the best Thanksgaming (that’s right, Mackey, I’m taking my word back) came back when I was a wee sprout and my grandparents were the resident supervisors at the men’s dorm at the local Christian college. Every year we’d have a huge lunch spread in the dorm lobby for our family and all the guys who couldn’t afford to return home for the break — notably the international students — and, this being in the heyday of the arcade, the vendors who leased the half-dozen or so arcade cabinets in the lobby would put the machines on free play. By the end of the day, I’d be stuffed with great food after grazing non-stop at the buffet table, and my eyes would burn from staring at Tempest and Centipede all day (not to mention the copies of Star Wars and Krull they had playing constantly in my grandparents’ shiny new VCR). I’m pretty sure that was the closest thing to paradise an 8-year-old could possibly know.

Geez, no wonder I ended up writing about games for a living. Thanksgiving at my grandparents’ was like some sort of Pavlovian conditioning experiment.

20 thoughts on “Thanksgami–d’oh!

  1. Heck yes Maniac Mansion! Let us all hate on Donkey Kong Country, aka Slow Sonic the Hedgehog, which must have outsold Yoshi’s Island 8:1. Heck, even DKC 3 outsold it. Very sad.

  2. Ah, I love NES Maniac Mansion. Probably one of the few instances where the port is better than the original (goofy censorship aside, but I didn’t know or care when I was a kid, and the music’s still better on the NES).

  3. YES, the music on the NES Maniac Mansion is better! Good times. The NES music chip was just right for the tracks in Maniac Mansion, particularly the intro tune.

    Parish, when you say “I decided to beat Final Fantasy III again,” do you mean what was masquerading as FFIII at the time? Good choice for Thanksgaming.

  4. I used to love me some DKC, but a couple months ago I took off the rose-tinted nostalgia glasses and gave the original another run-through. It’s a decent platformer for the first couple of worlds, but the further into the game you get the more obvious its flaws become. The controls are kind of iffy, unlike the sequels there’s no real reason to explore anything (maybe Cranky says something different if you 100% it, I don’t know. It wasn’t enough of a potential reward for me to bother with it), and by the time you’re as far in as the factory world, it becomes obvious that the level designers didn’t feel like actually designing levels and started throwing in gimmicks to artificially ramp up the challenge (to the point where the last area consists of nothing but gimmick levels).

  5. FFVI doesn’t really do a whole lot for me anymore. Watching sprites jump up and down is pretty obsolete in today’s 3d world. It’s so much more fun to watch cutscenes in FFX and CC or anymore a little more modern for that matter.

  6. Donkey Kong Country is a horrible game. I was brainwashed by Nintendo Power back in the day (and come on, who wasn’t?), but even then I realized it had shitty controls and pointless random deaths. It had nothing to offer beyond millions of advertising dollars from Nintendo. I’m mostly just glad I’m not the only one to have this opinion.

    And I thought the graphics were sort of iffy back then, what with the blurry pre-rendered “3D” sprites. It’s aged about as well as Milli Vanilli.

  7. I wouldn’t call it horrible, just pedestrian. Once you get past the unique-at-the-time presentation, it does little new and does even less well.

  8. Okay, that’s fair enough really. It’s just a… generic SNES platformer, of which there is plenty. It’s just the realization that Nintendo lied to you. That breaks a kid’s heart, you know, kind of like finding out Santa Claus isn’t real.

  9. The music in Maniac Mansion was fun. I really liked the intro where the music starts with the meteor crash and syncs with the lights turning on. Good times! The redesigned sprite work seemed tighter on the NES too. If you have enough nerdy friends, the playable characters would make a great group costume for Halloween.

    I don’t hate DKC, I just thought it was overrated when I was twelve, and it’s copy-paste sequels were the platformer equivalent of Madden. It did have some neat effects and atmospheric music, and while the pre-rendered sprites have not aged well, they have aged better than the vast majority of its gray-bordered pre-rendered contemporaries.

  10. “If you have enough nerdy friends, the playable characters would make a great group costume for Halloween.”

    Best costume ever! Consider this idea stolen…if I can just get it to work…

  11. “I’d also say the SNES is pretty overrated. Genesis > SNES”

    So glad you’re keeping the 16-bit wars fire burning. I always thought to myself back then, “This polar fanboyism is a useful dialogue worth preserving and I hope it lives well into the next century.” Thanks for keeping the dream alive!

  12. Hey, I’m having a hard time thinking of a single RPG that turned into a “you’re my father thing. Can you help a brotha out?

  13. Let’s see: Xenogears (Grahf was Fei’s dad); FFIV (Golbez was Cecil’s brother); Chrono Cross (Lynx was a corrupted form of Serge’s father); FFVIII (Edea was everyone’s foster mother); FFX (Sin was Tidus’ father); and those are just the ones that popped right into my head. I’m sure non-Square companies have done it, too!

  14. I’ve read, understand, and mostly agree with all the complaints of Donkey Kong Country. I still really like it though, and I like DKC2 even more. I guess it’s a personal failing.

  15. Man, don’t sweat it. If liking a game someone else called flawed were a sin, I’d be beyond hellbound.

Comments are closed.